Exploration Project One: Religion in my Neighborhood I was born and raised in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. I live on the 22nd street along Lyndale Avenue in Uptown. This part of Minneapolis is characterized by its diversity in religion and represents a real testament of the multiplicity of means through which America's diverse traditions and beliefs find common ground. More so, it is a base to one of the extensively assorted landscapes in the aspect of religions in the whole nation. According to the United States national history, it is perceived that the city of Minneapolis was religiously founded and the inhabitants demonstrated their religious passion within the community by constructing new churches during the 18th century (O'Neal et al., 2007). Indeed, Minneapolis is documented as to have been the first city in which the first basilica was elected in North America. Initially, the city was dominated by the Christian religion, however, this religion has progressively been replaced by other faiths and denominations. Hence, this region of Minneapolis can be equated to a gentle pot of religious multiplicity that is slowly melting, weaving, and fusing in uniformity to paint the vibrant picture it now represents (Oxtoby & Hussain, 2011). From my experience in this region, I can affirm that the consolidation of these diverse religions has brought into the limelight values such as volunteerism, good health, the focus on safety, and diversity that represent the best of the Minneapolis community. Religious organizations found in this region include; Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Afro-Caribbean, Islam, and paganism. For my exploration, I will cover the context of specific religious organizations that are located in the area that stretches from Nicollet Avenue to East Calhoun parkway and from 36th street to Franklin Avenue. My everyday tasks and activities take me to different parts of my neighborhood where I come across an array of religious groups and organizations. Some of these religious organizations and faiths carry out their congregational and worship activities in established buildings and structures that I happen to have come across. Other organizations turn facilities that are meant for business purposes, into places of worship during worship days. Therefore, there are many faiths organizations within this area where people go to worship in accordance with their beliefs and perceived values. The first religious organization I will delve into, is the Evergreen Church- New Hope, a Christian church located at 3351 Independence Ave N, New Hope, MN 55427 (Cooke et al., 2011). This church is founded on the belief that the gospel of Jesus Christ actively changes people's lives. The church's website is definitive in that the believers who worship in the Evergreen Church- New Hope believe in one God (Vander, 2010). Their God is the creator of the universe. According to them, their God takes three forms: God the Father who is also the Creator, Jesus Christ who is the son of God, and the Holy Spirit. The church believes that they worship God who possesses infinite power, love, justice, goodness and wisdom. The church also teaches the believers to believe in the scripture as a sole basis of their beliefs. The church is categorical that the scripture was fully, verbally, and uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit and the original template under which it was derived was without any known errors. In addition to these beliefs, the church also views man as an image of God though the man has been corrupted and condemned divinely because of disobedience towards his creator (Schuman, 2010). Their Christian virtues address the significance of the Holy Communion, baptism, and sowing the gospel into believer's lives through community relationships and teachings. The Evergreen Church- New Hope holds different values that guide its believers in life-related activities and those related to how human beings should co-exist. Sowing the gospel is one of the key values that demonstrates the commitment of the church in directing the church's flock. According to the church, the context of sowing the gospel together with co-workers, friends, and family members offers the believers of the church new hope in their lives. The church also instills into its believers the value of spiritual growth. The church suggests that the spiritual growth of a believer should be focused on attaining an all-rounded maturity (Schuman, 2010). The practicalities of attaining spiritual growth are founded on such doctrines as the consistency in practice that embrace basic spiritual disciplines of praying and reading the bible. Other doctrines are related to the believer's discovery of hi/her spiritual gifts, application of biblical financial stewardship, seeking God's first and foremost, acquiring finances and honoring god with those finances, and commitment to a relationship that offers mentorship and accountability. The second religious organization that is located in our neighborhood and which I will offer an insight is the African-Caribbean religion. In particular, I will look at the African-inspired religious organization referred to as Santeria. Santeria refers to the way of saints. This religion has its roots in Cuba and most of the congregation is constituted of immigrants from that part of the world (Fernández & Paravisini-Gebert, 2011). Down the street, about half a mile from where I live, worshippers of this faith congregate at one of the believer's home to undertake their worship activities and observe their rituals that pertain to their beliefs and traditions. The beliefs of the Santeria group is based on their acknowledgment of a supreme God and a multiplicity of other mortal beings such as Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes and Nuestra Señora de la Caridad in everyday life (Fernández & Paravisini-Gebert, 2011). Some of the motor beings held in high regard by the Santeria practice have also been homologized by the Catholic faith where they have been given the Saint accolade. Orichas or the deities derived from Regla de Ocha form the foundations of the group's beliefs. Similar in practice to the Greek mythology and catholic saints, the Regla de Ocha mortal gods also undergo syncretizing. The practitioners of this faith employ faith objects from their motherland which include; herbs, statues, beads, beads, and oils. Moreover, the believers of this religion believe in the healing of soul and body which is affected by their spiritual leaders such as Steve Quintana. According to them, the spiritual leader's roles are multifaceted in that, they adopt the roles of spiritual healers, doctors, and psychologists. Thus, thus this religion is uniquely different from other religion in regard to the way it observes its practices and beliefs. For instance, the believers, healing rites embrace the application espiritismo, a Cuban healing rite that uses flowers, water in glasses, and colognes to affect healings (Fernández & Paravisini-Gebert, 2011). Additionally, they use smoke from tobacco cigars to invoke spirits. Additionally, the faith observes the ritual of initiation, divination, and rites related to sacrifices to their mortal gods. According to their teachings, the believers should strive to achieve the highest levels of the system of these rituals that conform with the table of Ifa (Flores-Peña & Evanchuk, 2011). Another unique distinction that defines this religion is their significant part of ache-or the life-force carried out in religious ceremonies. This ritual is demonstrated in the vision of the world from the religions' perspective. Their theology, religiosity, and worship permeate animate and inanimate beings in this vision. To invoke this vision into any being energy is sought from the blood of animals and embedded into sacred stones referred to as otanes through bathing the stones in this blood. The third and last religion organization I would like to base my exploration on is the Judaism religion. For this exploration, I will focus on a synagogue where worshipers of this faith congregate and which is located in my neighborhood. The Kenesseth Israel Congregation synagogue is situated at St. Louis Park at 4330 W. 28th street. It is a Jewish congregation that is Torah observant and was established 126 years ago in suburban Minneapolis (Boustan et al., 2010). The synagogue oversees two services that are referred to as Shabbos and Shacharit. The Shabbos service commences at 8:45 am every day in the morning. The Shacharit service commences at 6:30 am during Mondays and Thursdays. Also, on Sundays and national holidays, the church administers the Shacharit service at 8:00 am. The church has many congregants who amount to approximately 400 believers. The religion taught to Judaism believers at Kenesseth Israel Congregation synagogue is focused primarily on the concepts of cosmology that acknowledge the God's nature, the universe, the belief in man's nature, the existence of life and afterlife as proclaimed by the Jewish and kabbalah mysticism (Boustan et al., 2010). Specifically, the Kenesseth Israel Congregation synagogue instills in its followers that there are no other doctrines, mandates, or prerequisite beliefs that exist outside the doctrines of Jewish and kabbalah mysticism. The synagogue also directs its followers to seek their own opinions in all the matters addressed by this mysticism. The synagogue is focused on building the relationship between its followers and God and the relationship between mankind. Apart from Sabbath prayers, some of the other rituals observed at Kenesseth Israel Congregation synagogue are related to the observation of kosher or the laws as proclaimed by the Jewish dietary. The leaders of the synagogue also guide its worshipers in observing the commandments of torah which are referred to as mitzvot and are perceived to be divine. The 613 commandments and especially the rabbinic laws form a significant part of the of the followers' beliefs (Boustan et al., 2010). Other beliefs enshrined in this faith are related to circumcision, funerals, mourning, naming of newborns, firstborns' redemption, weddings, and worship. To conclude, the religions I have explored above perceive their exclusive ways in terms of their perspective on life and beliefs in immortal objects. The Kenesseth Israel Congregation synagogue has many followers and closely observes the principles that guide Judaism (Grotius et.al. 2012). The Evergreen Church- New Hope attracts many Christian believers in my neighborhood and also teaches the believers to observe peaceful human co-existence through love and donations to the poor. The African-Caribbean religion believers are not many in my neighborhood and they usually congregate in small groups in one of the believers' home. Moreover, not much is known about their ways of worship. Overall, these religions teach more about divination in their own unique ways. Thus, it is up to the inhabitants of this region to choose the religion of their choice (Boustan et al., 2010). Exploration Project Two: Participant Observation in a Monotheist Religion I born in the late 1980's in this area of Minneapolis into a family that constituted of two boys and two girls and many members of the extended family. At a tender age of three years, I learned that my family used to observe some unique rituals at different times of the day. For instance, when the time came for the family to take their meals, our parents will ask my elder brother to pray for the meal. He did so by asking a divine being, that I later came to learn was known as God, to bless our meal and not to forsake those who did not have such a meal. He continued to ask the Supreme Being to offer our family more of such meal on our next meal. When it came the time to go to sleep, our parents would ask as to stay silent for a word of prayer to the same Supreme Being. Our parents were very strict on observing prayers and they always reminded us that if we prayed to this Supreme Being, we will always be assured of our safety since the Supreme Being would grant us the protection and guidance that we required at the time. On Sundays, my elder siblings would not go to school or perform any duties, rather, we would all accompany my parents and the other members of our extended family to a building where we would meet many strangers. The people in this building at times worshiped, sang, or stayed in silence when one of the strangers addressed them. When I attained the age to go to school and gained a little knowledge about humankind. I became aware that all these rituals we observed as a family was because of our parents' devotion to religion. More so, ours was a Christian religion and as the religion demanded, we were supposed to worship God as the Supreme Being and only to him were we supposed pray to help us with our perceived needs. I later learned that, like me, my parents had been born into a Christian family and it was their duty to instill into me this religion. When I started attending school, I met other kids who would observe prayers and other rituals just as the ones we observed in our family. However, other kids did not practice rituals such as praying before they took any meal. This intricate discovery would hence confuse me more since I wondered the reason as to why these kids were different. When I asked my parents about my new discovery, they let me know that friends observed practices similar to ours since we believed in the same faith. They also informed me those kids whom I perceived to be different indeed came from a different religion that was divergent from our beliefs. More so, their religion held different beliefs that were also divergent from what we believed in. as I continued towards maturity, I came to understand what religion really meant and as to why other people would hold divergent beliefs to those of mine. In my new understanding, there were multiple religions which one could follow. The prerogative and the choice to follow and believe in a specific religion squarely rested on an individuals' interests, needs, or family affiliations towards a specific religion. I learned that these religions affected the activities, behaviors, and way of life of those who believed in them. Moreover, in some of these religions, the believers held in high esteem the doctrines and values that guided them. I eventually made friends with Jewish students during the latter stages of my schooling years. My new friends followed and practiced the religion of Judaism. They would observe practices such as the morning prayers in their own strictness. These players would be held in togetherness at exactly 8:45 am in the morning and the group would go ahead with dedicating some time to worship and sing together after the prayers. Later, I came to learn that these players were known as Shabbos and were supposed to be observed with dedicated strictness as premeditated by some laws that guide the religion of Judaism (Bates, 2011). The doctrines of their religions were slightly different from my Christian beliefs in some unique aspects. These intrigues captured my attention and I became interested in learning and finding out more about the religion of Judaism. My curiosity to learn more about Judaism drove me to read scriptures and materials that were always brought by my friends when they attended any of their many functions. I also read materials online that addressed the topics concerning the Judaism religion on the internet. Nonetheless, the materials from the internet and those given to me by friends could not satisfy the depth of knowledge I wanted to gain concerning the religion of Judaism. To get the information I required, I realized that I had to participate in that religion. Moreover, to do so would demand that I attend most of their functions and ceremonies. In the real sense, this project presented me with a great opportunity of continuing at a point where I left my previous research. For this project, I asked my friends if I could accompany them to their prayer meetings and other functions. Since I started accompanying them, I have researched more about Judaism, participated in many of their functions, shared some of their beliefs, and enjoyed some of their mastery teachings. Moreover, I have found out that the religion of Judaism has so much to offer and invokes some interesting history. From a traditional perspective, the Jewish beginnings are anchored on patriarchal narratives enshrined in the Hebrew holy book (Bates, 2011). The narratives try to infer to Israelites or the Jewish ancestor's attempts of trying to discern their origins during the medieval ages. In these attempts, the Jewish people try to distinguish their cultures from that eastern culture by monotheistic nature. The narratives and myths about the origins of Judaism have been inferred through the Jewish generations. The beginnings of Judaism is closely interlinked to a nomadic herder who was known as Abraham. According to Hebrew bible, Abraham and God agreed on unrestricted covenant regarding two concomitant divine agreements. These agreements were related to the unlimited tenure and progeny of the land of Canaan. The myth then lays the foundations of Judaism through the tribulations of Abraham and his family in the land of Canaan. The narratives then offer three constructs of evolution that include the kingdom of Judah, the Rabbis prophesy, and the emergence of Torah (Bates, 2011). These constructs try to consolidate the Judea culture into a classical Judaism that was eventually regarded as a way of life. Therefore, from a traditional perspective is more than a religion in that; it attempts to preserve the Jewish link to the religion of Israelites and by far extend those beliefs to the coming generations. One of the elemental aspects of Judaism is the synagogue. According to Judaism, the synagogue symbolizes the sacred place where Abraham had the unconditional covenant with god. The synagogue admits no artistic inventions, statues, or frescos because it is a holy place and it should be kept clean. This doctrine of abstraction is reflected by the curtains that surround the holy arc. While the curtains are embroidered with beauty, they possess no artistic decoration. The holy arc in Judaism is the symbolic representation of the commandments given to Moses by God and it is holily preserved in a similar way that the believers should preserve the teachings and the religion of Judaism (Raphael, 2011). The non-elemental context of Judaism is intricate in its nature and the beliefs of this religion are observed with a matching intricacy. Of these intriguing beliefs that captivated me during this project, is the three essentials of the traditional liturgy that are consolidated in the marking of all daily, Sabbath, and festival services. These liturgies are; the recitation of hymns in psalms, the devotion in silence or the amidah benedictions, and the Shema Yisrael. According to Judaism, these aspects of worship are enshrined in God act of revealing his law or Torah (Raphael, 2011). The Jews who follow this law to the end are God's example to the rest of the universe. Moreover, the liturgies are sensual patterns of expression of one's faith and therefore should be observed by practitioners of Judaism. The recitation aspect is based on Judaism belief and enshrined in biblical Shema. Additionally, the eighteen non-elemental aspects of benediction invoke the scriptural responsibility of those who believe in Judaism to incorporate the rabbinic interpretation. The practice of Judaism incorporates the spirit of volunteerism in helping the needy. Although the religion of Judaism is divergent from other religions, this humane aspect bridges this divergence. Also, the religion of Judaism encourages the co-existence and cooperation among mankind through fellowship. This unique virtue is also embraced by other faith organizations and it offers an opportunity to anyone willing to merge with Judaism. Exploration Project Three: Participant Observation in an Asian Religion When I joined the University of Minnesota for my undergraduate studies, I made many friends who practiced diverse religions. The university, like the entire nation of United States, was indeed a landscape of religious pluralism. Shivansh Kabir was one of my friends and he doubled up as my roommate. This meant that I had ample time to interact with him during my time at the university. Shivansh was born and brought up in India in a Buddhist family where he attended government schools from an early age. He performed exemplary in his college education and eventually secured a fully paid government scholarship to study in the United States for his undergraduate studies. During our undergraduate years, Shivansh used to practice Buddhism and observed the rituals of his religion with a lot of passion. Overall, one could see his dedication towards his religion through his exuberance in observing the beliefs under his faith in Buddhism. At night after our evening meals, Shivansh would clear the space where we put our small dining table. He would proceed to remove his shoes and to sit on the floor with his legs-crossed. He would insinuate to be sitting in front of an altar of an imaginary temple observing the rituals of an absent statue of Amida Buddha. All this time I used to sit and watch him observe the rituals of his faith in amazement and curiosity. After completion of his religious rituals, Shivansh would tell me that the rituals he had just observed before the imaginary altar constituted to fundamental dharma expressions of his Buddhism faith. He informed me that dharma was the teaching of Buddha that had been passed down the generations. According to Shivansh, the dharma teachings was the practice of every Buddha with the term in its essence referring to the repetitive nature of these rituals. He informed me that the practice of observing meditations while sitting with his legs crossed, was a ritual that is applied to affect Awakening among their gods (In Miller, 2014). Such intrigues would leave me speechless and awaken the curious being within me that wanted to know more about shivansh peculiar faith. A faith that I had never been close and interacted with prior to meeting Shivansh. During a break in our last year of study at the university, Shivansh invited me to accompany him to India for holidays. I promptly agreed since the chance of traveling to India presented me with a perfect opportunity to research on this project. Moreover, this opportunity will help me settle my curiosity to understand the religious contours and intricacies of the Asian continent. We were a week away from our departure to India, and I waited for the day of our journey like an expectant child with immeasurable eagerness while wishing that minutes could overrun hours, and hours could overrun days. We eventually boarded our plane and had a flight to India's capital city of New Delhi. We touched down at the city's international airport during afternoon hours and we took a taxi to the city center of New Delhi. New Delhi welcomed us with its ever-busy environment that was characterized by the sea of people, cramped up buildings, industries in every corner of the street, beggars lined up on the streets, and the heavy traffic of public service vehicles. Amidst this confusion, however, I did not fail to notice the artistically and precisely built temples that were embroidered in the paraphernalia of beauty. The awe and beauty of these temples were overly striking, they were nothing like the temples back in Minneapolis. In one word; they were captivating. This was exactly the allure that had brought me all the way from my city of Minneapolis and came searching for in India. I spent the rest of my holiday in India observing and participating in Buddhism rituals with Shivansh and his family members. The experience was heavenly and captivating. When the time came for us to come back to Minneapolis, I felt that I had gained a lot of knowledge about the faith of Buddhism that was enough to furnish my curiosity. In Minneapolis, on a Sunday, shivansh invited me to the Indian community temple known as the Minnesota Hindu Dharmic Society Vishnu Mandir located at 3114 Lyndale Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55411. The Minnesota Hindu Dharmic Society Vishnu Mandir temple is one of the biggest temples in this region of Minneapolis with a large Buddhists congregation of Indian origin. On Sunday morning, the ringing of a bell and the drumbeats opened the service of this very temple. When the doors to the temples opened, I entered the temple and was enthralled by what I deemed as statues at the altar. The service began almost immediately, with a sermon from one leader who seemed to be directing those sermons to the altar; most conspicuous part of the temple with its centrally sited, shimmering image of Amidah Buddha. According to the Buddhism faith, the Amida Buddha is the most honored among the many bodhisattvas and buddhas (Piyadassi et al., 2005). The Buddha is the foundation of purity in the faith of Buddhism. The sermon service was closely followed by hymn singing. This section of worship closely resembles that of American Protestantism. The priest then read from the scriptures and invited one of his fellow priests to observe remembrance to the deceased members of their congregation. The priest then proceeded to offer birthday messages of goodwill to children of the community. The priest then led the congregation who sat in the pews in performing three congregational chants. The chants were known as Respectful Invitation and were observed in a soft monotone chant. They were recited as follows; ‘We respectfully call upon Tathagatha Amida to enter this dojo; we respectfully call upon Shakyamuni to enter this dojo; we respectfully call upon the Tathagathas of the ten directions to enter this dojo' (Piyadassi et al., 2005). The chants were followed by inferring to namo amida butsu. Later that day I went back home and shared my experience with my siblings who were enthralled. The emergence of Buddhism in the American society more than 2,500 years ago designates a story with an epoch-making (Piyadassi et al., 2005). For centuries, the faith in Buddha has sculptured the religious landscape and lives of people in the Asian continent. Its institutionalization in schools, philosophical context, arts, and rituals have impacted the lives of Asian society from Indonesia to japan and from Tibetan valleys to Iranian deserts. Thus, for thousands of years, this faith has evolved numerously and incorporated many cultures and as it integrates into the American culture, it continues to evolve gradually (Piyadassi et al., 2005). Nevertheless, to understand its integration it is vital to first understand the basics of this, and both the elemental and non-elemental contexts of American Buddhism that were visible to me at the Minnesota Hindu Dharmic Society Vishnu Mandir temple. The non-elemental influence of the faith is founded in dharma. Dharma refers to the consolidation of the beliefs and faith of Buddhism. The main focus of these beliefs is to alienate samsara. Samsara refers to reincarnation or the cycle of rebirth. In the event a Buddhist escapes reincarnation, he/she achieves nirvana. Nivarna is the heaven of a Buddhist which is holy home according to Buddhism beliefs. Nivarna infers to escapism and is a home where those who have achieved deliverance from suffering, sorrow, and pain finally experience relief and joy while having a bliss (Piyadassi et al., 2005). The teachings of dharma guide the believers of Buddhism in finding a way to reach nirvana. Dharma instruct that, nivarna can only be attained by believers if they observe Pativedhanana. Pativedhanana refers to the Four Nobel Truths of Buddha. These are non-elemental aspects that designate the wisdom of realization. They include; the consolidation of suffering or dukkha, which informs that Buddha is categorical that life is defined by sorrow and pain and those who believe otherwise are in a state of illusion. The second noble truth informs on the origin of suffering or Tanha. The dharma is scriptural on tanha by proclaiming that the origin of suffering is founded by false desires in humans that deceive one into establishing an attachment to the [passing universe. The third truth of nobility refers to overcoming of the eventual suffering. It is also known as the Nirodha or the moment of cessation. It clears on the procedure of escaping the false desires. The fourth and last truth of nobility refer to the way of life for every Buddhist. It offers the concrete ways to achieve nivarna. Elemental objects and symbols were visible at the Minnesota Hindu Dharmic Society Vishnu Mandir temple. These objects were a representation of the beliefs related to Buddhism. The first object was the banner at the altar which designated the triumph of the Buddhism religion over evil. The second object was a representation of two fishes. This representation of the deliverance of the living beings from the ocean of the earthly evil. The third symbol was that of the white Parasol. It symbolized the protection of a good being from evil desires. More so, there was the conch Shell, which insinuates the relief of glorification that one experiences upon leaving the path of the wicked ways. The knot that has multiple recurring knots signifies the reincarnation or the rebirth cycle. The wheel signifies the transformation undergone by beings when they align with the dharma teachings. The treasury of all the spiritual gain is represented by the vase. The symbol of the soul's progress is indicated by a lotus (Piyadassi et al., 2005). I have been to many places where religious rituals are practiced. I have also made friends with people who practice a different religion from mine, however, I have to admit that Buddhism is uniquely different. Nevertheless, even though this belief is very diverse from my Christian beliefs, it is in some aspects similar. The dharma teaches that for one to reach nivarna, one has to leave out the earthly desires. 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